Concord Hospital and Area First Responders Conduct “Active Shooter” Drill
It took just seconds after the words “Code Silver Drill” were broadcast over the Concord Hospital’s overhead paging system for the corridors, cafeteria and patient rooms to become eerily quiet. Staff, visitors and some patients were behind locked doors and practicing silently for something they hope will never happen – someone shooting a gun in the building.
An “active shooter” exercise on March 29 tested how prepared the Hospital, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel are to confront such a threat.
“These horrific tragedies do not just happen in other parts of the country,” said Concord Hospital Director of Security John Duval. “Things can happen anywhere, at any time.”
The exercise was designed to test the Hospital’s new “Code Silver” policy drafted to address how staff should react if someone opens fire on the Hospital campus. The policy is designed to protect staff, visitors and patients by having them seek shelter quickly in the safest and most secure area near them.
Duval said from the Hospital’s point of view, the drill was a “huge success,” as staff followed procedures, and as regular Hospital operations continued.
At the same time, the exercise allowed police and fire officials to sharpen their skills operating under a “unified command” in which police and fire commanders work together to form a strategy to resolve a crisis. First responders also practiced tactics designed to end a threat quickly and provide more rapid medical aid to any victims.
No authentic weapons were used and there were no sounds of gunfire in the drill scenario in which a “perpetrator” wounded people as he made his way through corridors and stairwells to the fourth floor.
Police tracked the “perpetrator,” followed by EMS personnel who aided the “casualties”. Most of the Hospital’s actual patients did not notice any disruptions and patient care was not interrupted.
The participating agencies included Concord and Bow Police; the Merrimack County Sheriff’s Department; Concord, Bow and Loudon Fire Departments; and Penacook Rescue.
Hospital, police and EMS planners expect the lessons learned will better prepare them to work together to handle a broad range of emergencies – from weather disasters to gas line explosions to shootings.
“Realism in training is paramount.” said Concord Police Sgt. Michael Pearl, who coordinated the police role in the exercise. “If we don’t train often and with our partners in first response, we aren’t able to properly gauge the necessary resources needed for a critical incident,”
Concord Fire Marshal Sean Brown said the exercise also gave the Hospital and first responders the opportunity to build on their working relationships.
“Functioning as an organized team within a standardized framework is a critical part of managing the response to any major emergency,” Brown said. “The experience gained during this exercise will improve the overall response should an active shooter incident, or other significant event, occur in our community.”
The drill came after a year of preparation, during which Concord Hospital, working with the Concord Police, designed policies and procedures and educated its staff about how to respond to a shooter.
Hospital Chief Operating Officer Joseph Conley said it was one more level of preparation for an organization that trains constantly to handle all types of emergencies.
“We need to be prepared and will be as prepared for this potential threat as we will for any other emergency,” he said. “I think that’s what the community expects of us.”
More than 100 Hospital staff members were involved, some actively in the exercise, some keeping patients and visitors informed and others ensuring there were no disruptions in patient care. About 40-60 police, fire and EMS personnel took part.
Patients, staff, other medical offices on campus and nearby residents were notified in advance. Visitors were notified Saturday and encouraged to take part by following staff directions.
In the cafeteria, staffers stopped preparing for lunch when the overhead page sounded and directed a half-dozen nursing students from the dining area into a secure room.
Concord Hospital Nursing Director Jennifer Dongarra, a drill observer, said everyone in her area of the 4th floor did what they were supposed to do.
“They went into rooms, locked doors behind them and even took batteries out of their electronic devices so they couldn’t be heard,” she said.
She said being able to practice was very important.
“You can talk to people and have them read policies, but experiencing it was really important for them to understand what to do,” Dongarra said.
James Sudak of Chichester happened to be visiting his wife, Pat, a patient. Dr. William Crawford, who was conferring with the Sudaks in Mrs. Sudak’s room, asked Mr. Sudak to take shelter with him in the bathroom.
“You could hear that everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing,” Sudak said of the staff. “They took it very seriously, which was a good thing for me to see.”
For the drill, Mrs. Sudak remained in her bed, but her husband said if it has been an actual alert, they could have moved her to the floor, out of sight.
Dr. Crawford felt reassured to have a plan and to be able to actually practice it.
“You pray that it doesn’t happen, but we would save lives with these measures - no question,” he said.
The Hospital and first responders will refine their plans, based on lessons from the drill and perhaps expand them to cover other aspects of handling such an emergency.